Hailes Abbey and ringwork


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Tewkesbury (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 04996 30096

Reasons for Designation

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597 to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks, canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England. These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout, although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship, learning and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. Some 75 of these religious houses belonged to the Cistercian order founded by St Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. The Cistercians - or "white monks", on account of their undyed habits - led a harsher life than earlier monastic orders, believing in the virtue of a life of austerity, prayer and manual labour. Seeking seclusion, they founded their houses in wild and remote areas where they undertook major land improvement projects. Their communities were often very large and included many lay brethren who acted as ploughmen, dairymen, shepherds, carpenters and masons. The Cistercians' skills as farmers eventually made the order one of the richest and most influential. They were especially successful in the rural north of England where they concentrated on sheep farming. The Cistercians made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

The abbey at Hailes was one of the last Cistercian houses to be founded in England, and became a great centre of pilgrimage. The remains of the abbey survive well and are known from partial excavations and survey over the years to retain further information about the abbey and the lives of its inhabitants. Unusual is the overlap between the abbey and the earlier ringwork, a class of monument whose dates of construction generally range from 1066 to the 12th century. Most ringworks were roughly circular areas enclosed by an earthwork bank and external ditch. They were usually constructed to serve as defended settlements, although some have been interpreted as military strongholds. Although now levelled, probably by a combination of landscaping works in the 17th century and recent cultivation, aerial photographic evidence demonstrates that buried features will survive.


The monument includes the known extent of St Mary's Abbey, a Cistercian abbey, the west range of which was converted into a country house in the 17th century, and the earlier Hailes Castle, a ringwork whose extent was partly incorporated into the abbey's inner precint. The site lies adjacent to a tributary of the River Isbourne on the lower slopes of a north west facing combe in the Cotswolds. The remains of the abbey, which are Listed Grade I, are divided between its inner precinct and outer court which were separated by a boundary which has not survived later landscaping. The inner precinct contains the claustral buildings. Of these, the walls of the cloister survive mostly at foundation level, although at the south end of the west range three bays survive to full height. The remains of the abbey church are to the north of the cloister. These were revealed during excavations early in the 20th century from which a complete plan was produced. This demonstrated that, when it was completed in the 1250s, the church was of typical Cistercian layout. In 1270 the abbey was presented with a phial of the `holy blood', and a shrine was made for it behind the high altar by extending the east end of the church and throwing out a ring, or chevet, of chapels. Excavations in the 20th century also produced burials north east of the north transept of the church and west of the nave. The east, south and west ranges of the claustral buildings follow the usual Cistercian plan. A geophysical survey was undertaken in 1978, which revealed the infirmary and another building beyond the east range. The outer court contains the site of a gatehouse chapel, believed to be in the vicinity of the parish church, four fishponds, a cross, the sites of two mills and earthworks representing internal boundaries and water management features. Of the ponds, three survive unaltered, while the fourth was landscaped in the 17th century. The mills survive as earthwork platforms, one to the east of claustral buildings, and one to their WSW. The latter appears as a moated platform in the vicinity of which excavations have yielded evidence for medieval occupation. On the west side of the monument, in the grounds of Hailes House, is a barn thought to be contemporary with the abbey. This is included in the scheduling. It has a small hatch in one wall reputed to have been used to provide communion for lepers. A further abbey barn has been revealed by aerial photographs immediately north of the parish church. This is also shown on a drawing of the site by Kip in the early 18th century. Little is known of the ringwork to the north of the abbey, although the site is known both from earthworks, recorded on early editions of Ordnance Survey maps, and now from aerial photographs. The presence of the parish church (the one-time gate chapel of the abbey) within the earlier ringwork is an unusual association. Hailes Abbey was founded by Richard, Earl of Cornwall in 1245, with the first monks arriving from Beaulieu the following year. The abbey church was rebuilt by 1277 following the receipt of a phial of the blood of Christ which made the abbey a centre of pilgrimage. At this time Hailes was one of the richest houses of the Cistercian order. Following the Dissolution, the abbey was sold to a dealer in monastic properties, soon after which the church was demolished. In the 17th century much of the west range and the abbot's lodging became the home of the Tracy family, and it was at this time that landscaping altered the appearance of much of the area of the precinct. The Tracy's moved on in 1729 and the buildings were converted into two farms. The monument was donated to the National Trust, and is now in the care of the Secretary of State. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are the museum, ticket office and toilet block, all signs, fences and gravel paths, modern walls, telegraph poles, the tarmac road and car park, modern sluices and drains, Hailes Abbey Cottages (Listed Grade II), The Bungalow, Pilgrims House, Pilgrims Cottage, Hailes Green Cottage, Hailes Green Barnes, The Barn and Hailes House and its outbuildings except the barn; the ground beneath all of these features is, however, included in the scheduling. The church and the churchyard are totally excluded from the scheduling.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Coad, JG, Hailes Abbey Gloucestershire, (1982), 17-22
Coad, JG, Hailes Abbey Gloucestershire, (1982), 3-16
Winkless, D, Hailes Abbey Gloucestershire; The Story of a Medieval Abbey, (1990), 28
Winkless, D, Hailes Abbey Gloucestershire; The Story of a Medieval Abbey, (1990), 63-67
Winkless, D, Hailes Abbey Gloucestershire; The Story of a Medieval Abbey, (1990), 67
Cooper, J., (1997)
Cooper, Mrs Janet,
Meridian 12 Nov 1967 89/67 89 67 167, (1967)
Meridian 12 Nov 1967 89/67 89 67 167, (1967)
Meridian Airmaps Limited, Meridian 12 Nov 1967, 89/67, 89 67 167, (1967)
Musty, A.,
Musty, A., (1997)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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